When the acquisition of speech appears problematic, I often turn to Amercian Sign Language for help. opting to use sign language is best when:
- a child shows a strong reluctance to speak
- secondary issues such as Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, apraxia, dyspraxia are present
- a child has the ability to imitate simple signs
- communication partners are there to support the use of sign
It’s easier for a child to see and imitate motor movements associated with early sign than spoken words. By example the sign “more” is made by placing one’s hands together twice. It’s spoken counterpart supposes a child has 1. mastery over the /m/, /oa/,and /r/ sound and can 2. can quickly coordinate production of all three sounds.
Sign simplifies the motor skills necessary to express a word. It facilitates self expression and builds a vocabulary of words which will eventually be spoken. It allows a child to think in words.
Does a child’s use of sign slow or hinder their ability to ultimately speak?
My experience as a therapist has taught me that sign does help. There is a natural relationship between gesture and speech. Our mouth is not the only part of our body connected to the words in our mind. Watch your own hands or the hands of a friend during conversation. Notice the way hands, arms, and fingers move in all sorts of directions as spoken words occur.
The early use of sign takes the pressure off speech and buys time for it’s ultimate development. The good news is the vast majority of kids receiving therapy will eventually speak. In the end sign only hastens the acquisition of the spoken word. In the very unlikely event a child does not develop speech, the experience with sign serves as a foundation for language and bridge to other augmentative means for communication. Self-expression and the development of early language whether speech, sign or combinations of both will in the end only help a child’s ultimate acquisition of speech.